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8 Taco Chains Where Chefs Actually Eat

Even pros can't resist a good, quick, satisfying taco spot.
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Taco chains are a popular pit stop around the United States, and their popularity doesn't seem to be slowing down. According to market research site Gitnux, Americans eat 4.5 billion tacos a year. Translated from Mexican Spanish, taco means "light meal" or snack, and one or two is a perfect, modest-sized bite on the go. Or, when paired with rice, beans, and pico de gallo, they can make a whole meal.

But not all taco stands are created equal. From the craveable and inspired menu at Taco Bell, to restaurants that play with flavors from other cultures and, of course, the authentic old-school styles, there's a lot to choose from.

To get some guidance, we spoke to chefs from around the U.S. about their favorite taco chains, where they enjoy every style of taco you can think of, or even a burrito on occasion. Before you celebrate Taco Tuesday—or Thursday, or really any day is a good day for tacos—read on for their picks and get the taco guidance everyone needs.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell

Probably the most recognizable taco chain in the world, Taco Bell has over 7,000 restaurants in the United States. And while the brand has gone viral for its over-the-top dishes like the Volcano Burrito, it remains a reliable favorite for good ole tacos, too.

Chef David Vargas, owner of  Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, N.H.,  admits he loves to "Live Mas" after a long night in the kitchen. "Right next door to Vida Cantina is Taco Bell," notes the multiple-time James Beard Award nominee. "The best part is that it's open late, 12 a.m. during the week and 1 a.m. on the weekend. The Taco Bell managers come into Vida quite often so I have gotten to know them well! They do think it's funny when I come rolling through the drive-thru after leaving Vida to get my favorites, Frito Burrito or Chipotle Sweet Potato tacos. These for sure never make it home!"

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Koji BBQ Taco Truck

kogi bbq taco truck
Kogi / Facebook

With four taco trucks and two stands in Los Angeles, this popular micro-chain specializes in marrying Mexican and Korean flavors for hungry Angelenos. Chef Ming Tsai, host and producer of the PBS cooking show "Simply Ming," and creator of street food line MingsBings, counts himself as a fan.

"Taco trucks are my favorite 'fast-food' tacos, particularly Chef Roy Choi's Koji BBQ Taco Truck in LA," says Tsia. "His gourmet Korean-Mexican tacos are particularly delicious."

Tsai's go-to order at Koji is the Bulgogi Tacos. "I've always loved spice, and the spice in those bulgogi tacos influenced our Fiesta MingsBings," he says. "The spice comes through in the plant-based chorizo."

The Taco Stand

the taco stand
The Taco Stand / Facebook

This California-based chain, which is inspired by Tijuana taco stands, has locations in Southern California, Nevada, and Florida. That's where chef Nyitre Rodgers enjoys her tacos. "Who doesn't love a golden, fried fish taco!" says Rodgers, executive sous chef at Market, the food-hall-inspired restaurant at The Miami Beach Edition hotel. "The Baja Taco is the perfect mix of crispy, creamy, spicy and fresh all in one amazing bite. I also recommend getting the salsa on the side and trying the hottest hot sauce to add a bit of a kick."

Los Tacos No. 1

los tacos no. 1
Los Tacos No. 1 / Facebook

This New York City-based mini-chain, with four locations around the city, is a chef favorite for its small, simple and super flavorful menu. The restaurant makes its tortilla in-house when you order, and that makes a huge difference.

Chef Andrew Quinn describes it as "super fresh," "super simple," and "in my limited experience, probably the most authentic taco you can find in NYC." The co-owner and executive chef of The Noortwyck is a big fan of the Adobada Especial. "It's like a crunchy meaty cheesy fried quesadilla," he says. "Amazing. The tortillas go from being a ball of raw masa dough, pressed, cooked, and filled to order. I don't know if there is anyone else doing that in New York, certainly not anything resembling a chain. There's a reason there is usually a huge line (but it moves fast!)."

He's not alone in being a fan of the restaurants. Chef Diana Manalang of NYC's Little Chef Little Café says, "Hands down, my favorite is Los Tacos No. 1. It has the best tacos and tostadas that are fresh, flavorful and consistent." Like Quinn, Manalang is a fan of the Adobada. She also likes the carne asada, especially when dining solo. When she's looking to share, she goes for the Nopal Plate. "Add a meat, and order chips and guacamole," she advises. "It's like making a nacho platter and using the chips as scoops. Highly recommended."

Anna's Taqueria

anna's taqueria
Anna's Taqueria / Facebook

Since 1995, Anna's Taqueria has been creating Mexican street food for the people of Massachusetts, and has grown to seven popular locations. It's a favorite for upscale Mexican restaurant Citrus & Salt's owner and chef, Jason Santos.

"I'm personally a big fan of Anna's Taqueria," says Santos, who skips the tacos for a hearty burrito order. "My go-to order is a carnitas burrito with extra cheese, avocado, sour cream, salsa, and pickled jalapeños."


tacombi storefront

Billed as an authentic Mexican taqueria, Tacombi has locations in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. Known for its fresh tacos and excellent happy hour, the chain has a fan in chef Lisa Roberts Hurd, owner of Lisa's 1973: "I love tacos and Tacombi has been my go-to since it opened its Nolita location in 2010." Her go-to order: "Guacamole con Totopos, Seared Fish a la Plancha Tacos, Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos, and to drink, Agua de Jamaica."

Torchy's Tacos

torchys tacos outside
Torchy's Tacos/Yelp

Torchy's Tacos has 100 locations across Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The chain is known for using high-quality ingredients to craft its cooked-to-order tacos.

Recipe developer and registered dietitian Lori Walker describes Torchy's as one of her personal favorites "Their tacos are made with fresh ingredients and they have a wide variety of options, from breakfast tacos to chorizo or vegetarian tacos," says Walker. "They also have a good selection of sides like guacamole and queso. My favorite order is the Trailer Park taco, it comes loaded with green chiles, cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo, and a creamy jalapeño sauce. It's delicious!"

El Farolito

el farolito
El Farolito

Another California-based chain, El Farolito has 15 locations in the northern part of the state, and is known for their house made corn and flour tortilla, along with their traditional menu. Chef Thomas Ricci is an enthusiastic consumer of that menu, calling it a top five of all time.

"Locally-speaking, nothing beats El Farolito in San Francisco," says Ricci, vice president of culinary operations and development at meal delivery services Sunbasket and Gobble. "The Super Quesadilla Al Pastor is on my 'Top 5 List of Last Meals' that I would want to eat. I will drive the 45 minutes to get a few of these at one of their four locations in San Francisco. It's one of the spots I bring anyone visiting San Francisco to."

Tanya Edwards
Tanya Edwards is a seasoned food and health journalist, who has held roles at Yahoo Health as Managing Editor and at Food Network as Programming Director. Read more about Tanya